Release to the captives

Acts 16 tells the story of an unavoidable interruption. Paul and Silas have travelled into Europe, met with Lydia and shared the Gospel, and are beginning to gather a small group of believers that will become the church at Philippi, when they have a difficult encounter with a slave girl.

Slavery wasn’t illegal. It was part of the culture and fabric of society, but because of the girl’s insistence and disruptiveness, getting involved became unavoidable. This girl had something, not of her choosing, that made her valuable to her owners. Had they acted as they should, she could have made enough money to buy herself free a long time ago; but she never sees the money she makes. She is trapped in a situation of exploitation, seen by her owners as a commodity, by those who pay for her services as a novelty for their own amusement, and avoided by passers-by. Perhaps they don’t even notice her any more. Paul and Silas are compelled to act, and in doing so, end the girl’s exploitation, but in doing so, find themselves in a threatening situation. I often wonder what happens to the slave girl; I like to hope that she is cared for by Lydia and the other women, but we are not told.

In the United Kingdom, in the 21st Century, we can be tempted to be complacent in the knowledge that here slavery is no longer legal. But all over the world, all over the UK, in cities, towns, and villages, men, women and children, are transported, bought, sold and exploited against their will for someone else’s gain. They can be trafficked into our country from other countries, but there are also concerns about internal trafficking - UK nationals being trafficked within the UK. There have been a number of recent cases of young girls being trafficked from city to city for sexual exploitation. Victims can be trafficked for sexual exploitation, forced labour (on farms, building sites, factories and restaurants), domestic servitude, criminal activity (e.g. benefit fraud, begging, theft, cannabis farms) and other slavery like practices.

Trafficking and smuggling are sometimes confused. Smuggling is always transnational, happens with the continued consent of the person involved and ends with the migrant’s arrival at their destination. Victims of trafficking might initially consent to travelling but the coercion, deceit and abuse of the traffickers renders that meaningless. Trafficking involves on-going exploitation to generate illicit profits / gain to the traffickers.

Whilst human trafficking has become a hot topic, the subject of novels, films, and TV dramas, the majority of us still find it difficult to comprehend that it could be happening in our town, our village, maybe even in our street. It’s difficult to spot and easy to overlook, further hampered by the fact that it is difficult to get reliable data to indicate the extent of the problem. You may have heard a wide range of estimates and statistics reported, often with little evidence as to how these numbers were decided upon and on what basis. Even if victims do encounter a source of help, they may be too frightened or ashamed to speak about what has happened; in some cases they are unaware that it has a name, ‘trafficking.’ Trafficked victims have good reason to be fearful; their traffickers are often part of organised criminal networks, and those helping or working with trafficked persons may, like Paul and Silas, find they themselves are at risk. Successful prosecutions are increasing, but still few and far between, and in no way reflect the extent of the issue. Fears that trafficking in the UK may increase during the 2012 Olympics are difficult to justify in terms of hard evidence. However it would seem logical to be concerned that, as stories from charities working in countries previously hosting major sporting events indicate, if demand for prostitution or cheap labour increases in the host city, or traffickers take advantage of travel visas, bringing victims into the country under the guise of them being spectators, then trafficking will increase.

Trafficking is hard to spot, and easy to ignore. But, like Paul and Silas, there comes a point when doing nothing is not an option.

It may be because of a chance encounter; like the church outreach team encountering a young man sleeping rough on the streets. He disclosed how he had been trafficked to work picking crops, endured horrendous sleeping and working conditions, and had run away fearing for his life after witnessing the traffickers beat up another man. Or the church leader confronted with a young couple walking into his church, seeking sanctuary, and advice; traffickers had taken their passports. They realised that, instead of the promised jobs in a factory and childcare, the traffickers planned to force them into criminal activity and sexual exploitation.

Or it may be because we are reminded, as we read our Bibles, of our call to work for justice and mercy, as people who believe in a God who can transform lives.

‘Jesus stood up to read and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, and let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’ Luke 4: 16-19

Are you equipped to spot the signs and indicators and to know how to respond? Would you know what to do if you encountered a victim of trafficking in your community?

Signs and Indicators There are a number of key indicators which might indicate that someone has been trafficked or exploited. For example, their passport or documents are being held by someone else; they seem anxious and fearful; they have injuries consistent with violence or poor living conditions; no holiday time or days off; limited social contact; lack of access to medical care or earnings. For a more detailed list, see

Link up. Form a link, as an individual, small group, or church with Stop the Traffik or Hope for Justice, who can keep you updated with the latest news, suggest ways to campaign locally and nationally and offer prayer and worship resources:

Pray From mid-October, the More than Gold website will include resources on Human Trafficking for use in local churches, including prayer and worship resources.